What Cooks Want

Recently, I stepped into a kitchen store to pick up a gift for a friend. Because I knew what I wanted, I was in and out in minutes. In those brief moments, it occurred to me that the store, stacked floor to ceiling with a dizzying array of cook’s tools from around the globe, was full with things that cooks don’t want or need. If you happen to be shopping for someone who is a professional or serious amateur cook, here is my humble, albeit unsolicited, advice: Avoid gadgets. They take up valuable space in the kitchen and almost never do anything to improve one’s cooking. Honestly, the only useful gadgets I can think of that are of any use are hand held can openers, wine corkscrews, and Japanese mandolines. That’s it. Counter top appliances like stand mixers and food processors are coveted gifts but may not be for everyone as they require large amounts of space on the counter top. Keep in mind that most serious cooks have color preferences for appliances that will be on display in their kitchens. There are a handful of useful tools that may be welcome by some; a good size mortar and pestle, (inexpensive ones made of heavy granite can be found at Asian food markets) a pair of good kitchen shears, V-shaped tongs, a fine mesh strainer, wooden spoons. Most other items such as knives, cutting boards, and cookware are difficult to buy unless you are very familiar with what the person already has. Most cooks develop a loyalty to certain product lines and prefer to stick with them. Also, avoid trendy food gifts. Things like bacon flavored chocolates or habanero pan cake mixes are best left on the store shelves. Cooks love practical food gifts of the highest quality; a great bottle of extra virgin olive oil, rare teas, French mustard, a hand selected bottle of wine…These will be used and enjoyed and not sit in a dark cabinet until they’re tossed away to make room for real food. Those shiny new gadgets are tempting, but the cooks on your Christmas list will appreciate not having to find space for another salad shooter.